L.A. 92 **** / *****
Directed by: Daniel Lindsay & T.J. Martin.
L.A. Burning: The Riots 25 Years Later *** / *****
Directed by: One9 & Erik Parker
Burn Motherfucker, Burn! *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Sacha Jenkins.
Rodney King*** ½ / *****
Directed by: Spike Lee
Written by: Roger Guenveur Smith
Starring: Roger Guenveur Smith
It has been 25 years since the riots in Los Angeles broke out, and the city descended into chaos. The catalyst for the rioting was the acquittal of four LAPD officers who were captured on video beating drunk driving suspect Rodney King mercilessly. While that was the spark that started everything, things would not have been so bad – people would not have been so angry – had there not been a long, long history of racism and police brutality in the city. Around the 25th University of this event, there have been 6 movies looking back at the events, and I have seen four (I didn’t watch the Broadcast premiere of John Ridley’s Let It Fall on ABC this past Friday, even though the consensus is that it is the best, because the version aired on TV ran 88 minutes – the version that went to theaters the week before is 144 minutes – cutting out nearly an hour is no way to watch a film by a filmmaker of Ridley’s caliber – I’ll watch it when I can see the full version – as for Smithsonian TV’s The Lost Tapes: L.A. Riots – I don’t think that is available here in Canada at all). All four of the films I did see have their merits, and should be seen – but in a strange way, they work very well together, despite using the similar footage in three of them, but having differing points of view. What happened in L.A. in 1992 is still relevant today, something all of these films know full well, but never beat you over the head with.
Ambition is one thing that Burn Motherfucker, Burn certainly does not lack – and that’s a little bit to the films detriment. Sacha Jenkins’ doc tries to delve deep into the historical context behind the riots – everything from Watts to the acquittal of those officers. Doing so is vital to understanding that the riots were not an isolated incident, nor that they sprung out of nowhere. However, trying to cram 30 years of racial injustice in L.A. into one, 97 minute package, means that many things get little more than surface level treatment – something, that I think the second part of last year’s best film, O.J. Made in America did better, in roughly the same amount of time. Still, Burn Motherfucker, Burn is the most ambitious of the docs in question, and still delves deeper into the history than the others, and is a fascinating film from beginning to end. I just wish Jenkins had been given O.J: Made in America like time to dive deep – there’s more than enough there to do so.